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Review: Wizard of Oz, Swallows Leisure Centre, Sittingbourne

It isn't a yellow brick road you need to find the Wizard of Oz in Sittingbourne. It's more a satnav to navigate the maze-like tunnels of Swallows Leisure Centre to track down the magic.

But once you have explored the corridors and followed the signs it is worth the trouble.

Cowardly Lion Jay Wallace-Langan with Dorothy (Melissa Suffield) in the Wizard of Oz at Swallows Leisure Centre, Sittingbourne (24320944)
Cowardly Lion Jay Wallace-Langan with Dorothy (Melissa Suffield) in the Wizard of Oz at Swallows Leisure Centre, Sittingbourne (24320944)

Former EastEnders' actress Melissa Suffield (she played Lucy Beale) stars as Dorothy Gale, the little Kansas girl with a big heart.

Actually, she's a little bigger than you might expect as, since landing the role in the summer, she is now six months pregnant. The blue and white frock does a good job hiding this from the youngsters.

Melissa, who will be 27 on Christmas Eve, is also directing.

It's a tall order but luckily she doesn't have far to travel since getting engaged to Sheppey lad Robert Brendan. The couple have set up home in Queenborough.

She is also keeping it in the family as her younger sister Daisy is helping backstage and acting as Dorothy's understudy.

Sisters Melissa, left, and Daisy Suffield in the Wizard of Oz at Swallows Leisusre Centre, Sittingbourne (24323361)
Sisters Melissa, left, and Daisy Suffield in the Wizard of Oz at Swallows Leisusre Centre, Sittingbourne (24323361)

Once again, Trio Productions have pulled out all the stops to deliver a cracking show on a shoestring.

It might not have comfy, raked seats like other theatres but this is a non-stop roller-coaster ride through Pantoland - even if it can't resist a traditional jibe at the sun-kissed Isle of Sheppey just 10 miles away.

It is packed with 20 songs, many originals to cut down on royalties, but they never seem to drag.

The affable Tom Balmont returns as the Scarecrow without a brain and Ryan Byrne is back as the Tin Man in need of a heart.

Jay Wallace-Langan, who on Sunday's first show of the run ended up battling a wonky microphone, came through with flying colours to prove his Cowardly Lion was brave after all.

Scarecrow Tom Balmont and Tin Man Ryan Byrne in the Wizard of Oz at Swallows Leisure Centre, Sittingbourne (24320950)
Scarecrow Tom Balmont and Tin Man Ryan Byrne in the Wizard of Oz at Swallows Leisure Centre, Sittingbourne (24320950)

Sohelia Clifford was delightfully evil as the green Wicked Witch of the West and Kassie Malam made sure everything turned out right in the end as Glinda the Good Fairy.

New Zealand-born Chris Rankin, who played Percy Weasley in the Harry Potter films, was on form as the Wizard of Oz.

There is plenty of smoke and pyrotechnics to keep the youngsters on their toes. Just beware the water pistols!

* The Wizard of Oz is at Swallows Leisure Centre, Sittingbourne, to Christmas Eve. Tickets start at £9 from 01795 420420 or visit www.sittingbournepanto.co.uk

Scarecrow Tom Balmont gets caught by a ghoulie in the Wizard of Oz at Swallows Leisure Centre, Sittingbourne (24320946)
Scarecrow Tom Balmont gets caught by a ghoulie in the Wizard of Oz at Swallows Leisure Centre, Sittingbourne (24320946)
Wicked Witch of the West Soheila Clifford in the Wizard of Oz at Swallows Leisure Centre, Sittingbourne (24320954)
Wicked Witch of the West Soheila Clifford in the Wizard of Oz at Swallows Leisure Centre, Sittingbourne (24320954)
Chris Rankin in the title role of the Wizard of Oz at Swallows Leisure Centre, Sittingbourne (24320942)
Chris Rankin in the title role of the Wizard of Oz at Swallows Leisure Centre, Sittingbourne (24320942)
Lost in the corridors of Swallows Leisure Centre, Sittingbourne, on the search for the Wizard of Oz (24323353)
Lost in the corridors of Swallows Leisure Centre, Sittingbourne, on the search for the Wizard of Oz (24323353)

For more panto reviews and things to see, visit our What’s On section here.


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